A Garden Of Earthly Delights Part 32

"G.o.d? What about G.o.d?"

"Seeing you. Seeing us. From some perspective we can't have."

Swan felt the insult, that Deborah should interpret his predicament in a theological way. There was that limitation to her, the country-girl's failure of imagination, he despised.

To amuse her he told of seeing Piggott. A doctor out of the Yellow Pages. "And he couldn't draw blood out of me. My veins are all dried up."

"What doctor? Why?"

Swan shrugged.

"Is something really wrong with you? Steven."

It excited him to be called by that name; it might have been that he was being mistaken for another man. Swan pulled Deborah down beside him, wanting to hide himself in her body; to get through to her what he knew he must tell her: that there was a great love dammed up in him but it could not be loosed. The more rigid that love lay inside him, frozen hard, the more frantic his body was to convince both her and himself that he really did love her. She was saying, half-sobbing, "Steven, I love you-I love you. Please."

At the very end, when he felt his backbone arching, his body dissolving in a spasm that sucked the breath out of him, he shut his eyes upon the flux of light only to see Clara's young adoring face melt in and out of his vision.

By train and by airplane. All around the world.

[image]

After she left, he dressed and went downstairs. He asked for his car. He must have looked strange because the man at the desk stared at him; when Swan returned his stare he looked away. Music was coming from somewhere behind them. Sentimental dance music, love music. Swan waited for the car to come and now it seemed that time was drawn out: there was a gilt clock over the elevator whose minute hand jumped with the pa.s.sage of each minute, but very slowly, very frigidly did it move so long as Swan watched it. Some people came in, laughing. The telephone rang at the desk. Swan watched the clock. He thought it might be broken, then the minute hand jumped. At this rate it would take him a week to get there, he thought. In his imagination the highway between here and Tintern stretched out for thousands of miles, not marked on any map, a secret distortion more relentless and sterile than the great wide deserts of the Southwest, marked so blankly on the maps he had tacked up in his room at home.

Finally the car was brought around. Swan gave the man a dollar. When he drove off it seemed to him there was a slight shove, as if he were pushing off to sea and someone had given him a helpful shove with his foot. Swan squinted to get his vision clear and saw a policeman rubbing at his nose with a professional look, not three yards away. The city lights were confusing but he knew enough not to think about them. No matter how the night lights shone and wavered before him, he would drive right through them and think nothing of it. He drove slowly. He could not quite believe in the reality of his big automobile, so he had no reason to believe he might crash into someone else. Everyone else was floating by. Then he saw that it had begun to rain: was that why he had thought he was going to sea? At once the rain turned into sleet. The streets would be dangerous. It was late March, struggling into spring.

That morning Clara had said, "It's sure trying to get sunny."

For several hours he drove straight into the sleet. No one else on the highway except trucks flashing and dimming their lights to greet him. Swan felt absurdly touched, that strangers should signal to him as if they knew him. He had to wonder: was there a secret alliance of individuals, to which unknowingly he belonged, and was it wrong of him to feel such indifference for it? Outside, shapes and ghostly lights floated by in the night, part-lighted service stations, roadside restaurants, houses, rising up and falling away in silence. He drove on. His foot became numb from the constant pressure, he was afraid to slow his speed. He had become one of those fated actors in the movie he'd seen, speeding into the dark unthinking, in the knowledge that a final scene awaited, words and actions had been scripted for him to fulfill.

He arrived at Revere Farm before morning.

Clara kept a back porch light burning, who knows why! Swan hurried from his car without troubling to shut the door, and ran to the porch. Its white wrought-iron railings were slick with ice. With the childish panic of one who'd been locked out of his house, Swan pounded on the door. He was panting, his breath steamed. Then he thought to take out his key. His fingers were trembling so from the cold, he could hardly jam the key into the lock. Overhead he heard a sound. Someone was calling. He swore and turned the key in the lock and managed to get the door open.

Clara was approaching, cautiously. She had no idea who he was: he saw his mother, Swan thought, as a stranger might see her, and was struck by her wild, astonished-looking ashy hair, her youthfulness. A silky pale-orange kimono-robe flapped around her, he was aware of her b.r.e.a.s.t.s encased in the bodice of a matching nightgown. Recognizing him, Clara became at once frightened, and angry.

"You! For G.o.d's sake, what are you doing? Are you drunk?"

"Is he awake? Tell him to come downstairs." Swan was pleased with himself, he spoke so calmly.

"He thinks it's somebody trying to break in. He'll get the gun." Clara went to call up the stairs, "It's just Steven! Your son!" There was silence upstairs. Then Swan heard Revere's slow, heavy footsteps. "Never mind, Curt, it's all right!" Clara called.

Curt. Swan still resented that name, somehow. Swan still resented that name, somehow.

"No, let him come down. I want to talk with him."

Clara stared at him. "You what?"

"I want to talk to him. You and him." Swan could not stop shivering. There was a roaring in his ears like a distant waterfall. "We can sit in the kitchen here. Please."

"Steven, what? Are you drunk?"

"Go sit down, I said please."

"Your father will-"

"Shut up, Clara."

"Look, who are you talking to?"

"I said, shut up."

Still he was calm. He would remain calm. He dared to push his mother before him, dared actually to touch her, the silky kimono she'd purchased for herself in a Hamilton store, the fleshy heat that exuded from her. She stared at him, swallowing; she was frightened, and yet would hide it; her eyes narrowed like a cat's, yet she sat at the table where Swan had pulled out a chair, in the dark. Fumbling for the switch, Swan turned on the light and saw that the kitchen was gleaming with smart new lime-green tile and gla.s.s cupboards. Fine polished cherrywood paneling hid the old, ordinary walls.

It came to him in a flash: the Reveres, and Clara and himself, seated at the old rectangular woodtop table. He could rememeber Curt Revere's seat at the table and he could remember Clark's but he wasn't sure where Jonathan had sat, or Robert. And where he'd sat, the youngest.

"Is he coming down, or what?" Swan asked. Now he was becoming impatient, listening for Revere's footsteps on the back stairs.

"He's an old man. What the h.e.l.l do you want with him, like this? Can't it wait till morning? Are you in trouble, is it something that happened in the city? You didn't hurt anyone, did you?"

"Where is he?"

"If you want him, go get him yourself."

They waited. Clara was breathing harshly, looking at Swan and then away, wiping at her eyes, as if she saw something in his face she wasn't yet ready to absorb. She was frightened, Clara was frightened at last. Long ago he had known she must be punished, she had sent him away with five dollars to buy his own lunch, she'd left his miniature antelope in the back of a taxi, she cared nothing for him him. It was this judgment she saw in his face, yet could not believe.

Swan glanced down and saw that he'd tracked up the tile, his wet feet were leaving small puddles. And still he was shivering.

"Yes, look at you, you'll be sick in the morning," Clara chided. But her words didn't quite convince either of them. Then she said, in a softer voice, "Swan-"

"Don't call me that!"

"What are you going to do?"

Revere descended the stairs slowly, one of his knees was stiff with arthritis. An old farm dog, your heart was wrenched with pity for such dogs, their baffled eyes s.n.a.t.c.hing at your own. Swan half-shut his eyes. d.a.m.n he did not want to feel pity. When Revere stood in the doorway Swan saw that he'd hastily put on overalls-old work pants that were faded and soiled. His voice was hoa.r.s.e, baffled.

"Steven? What are you doing here?"

Swan said, louder than he wished, "Come in here! Sit down!"

He took out his pistol and lay it on the counter, so that they could see it. His hands were shaking badly.

"What are you-"

"Stop! I can't stand you talking!" he shouted at Revere. "Come in here, sit down with her, be quiet."

Revere came in, haltingly. He was staring at Swan's pistol. He had never seen it before, he did not approve of handguns. Since Robert's accident he did not approve of firearms on his property. Clara was sitting limply, hugging herself. She too stared at the gun, and then at Swan, startled, a.s.sessing. Her face was clammy-pale. Swan had never seen her so respectful respectful. In the vestibule she'd looked young but in the bright overhead light you could see she was not young, fine white lines in her forehead, at the corners of her eyes, bracketing her mouth. Her skin was sallow, it was skin that now required makeup. It was not a skin to be examined closely.

Swan was trying to articulate what he wanted. He began to speak but his words ended in a gasp for breath. Dr. Piggott had not prescribed medicine for him, you could say it was Piggott's fault. He must sleep, and he would sleep. He covered the pistol with the flat of his hand as if embarra.s.sed. "I don't want to ... I mean, I want to ..." He stared at them, his parents. The clock and the new refrigerator hummed, "... explain something to you." Yet, as he stood, waiting, no words came to him. Finally he had no choice but to pick up the pistol, and check the safety.

"Swan-" Clara cried.

"I said, don't call me that! I can't stand it!"

They were calculating could they take the gun from him, he knew.

Revere, an old man suffering from high blood pressure yet canny, shrewd. And Clara.

"I came back here to explain to him, Clara. What needs to be done. To us. Before it's too late, and something happens to him."

"Steven, no ..."

Clara's bare toes were curling on the tile floor. It was preposterous, he saw what he believed to be remnants of red polish on her toenails. He said, "I want him to hear, to be a witness. Then he can explain, later."

Sharply Clara asked, "Later-when?"

"What is he saying?" Revere asked.

"Nothing! He's crazy!" Clara got to her feet, suddenly. Swan was forced to step back against the counter. He held the gun pointed at her, not very steadily. Yet he held it, he was determined. Clara said hotly, "You, what are you doing? With your brains, how stupid you are! Never went to college, why? Look at you now, behaving like a crazy man waking us up like this. They will come and lock you up and you know what I will say?-I will say 'The h.e.l.l with him, he had all the advantages and threw them away.' " But Clara's face seemed to break. She paused, with the look of a drowning woman. "Swan, everything I did was for you-you know that. Everything-"

"No. Not for me."

"For you you."

"I can't stand you talking-"

"But what did I do wrong? Tell me! All my life was for you-all of it." She was trembling, preparing to jump at him. She would use her nails. She would claw him, pummel him. She was taunting him as crude children would taunt one another. "No, you're not going to shoot. Not me, not anybody. You think you can kill your own mother? You can't, you can't pull the trigger. You're weak, you're nothing like your father, or your grandfather, that's my secret knowledge of you-'Steven Revere.' "

Swan raised the pistol, blindly. The roaring in his ears was deafening and yet he would remain calm, he was determined.

Revere was on his feet, moving to interfere. Clara pushed back at him, to keep him away. She taunted Swan, "Think you can pull the trigger-well, you can't! You can't!"

At the last instant Swan's hand swerved. His finger jerked on the trigger, it was the old man he struck. Revere cried out, stumbling back against the counter. He would fall, a bullet wound would blossom red in his chest, but Swan did not see him fall. Already he had lifted the gun to his own head.

12.

When she was only in her mid-forties she had this strange trouble with her nerves. Sometimes the right side of her body would fall numb, as if asleep, paralyzed. She stayed at the Lakesh.o.r.e Nursing Home, where she was the youngest patient: at forty-five she looked years younger and the pretty little nurses stared at her with pity. She went on trips "home"-that meant to distant and uninterested relatives-but she was never well there or anywhere, and she could not return to Revere Farm because the property had been sold, so after a while she remained at the Lakesh.o.r.e Home permanently and in a few years she was not even the youngest resident any longer, though she would remain the most attractive for some time.

Clark came to visit her. Every week or two. On Sundays in good weather he took his stepmother out to dinner at the White House, a showy inn with a Negro doorman in coat and tails. Clara would be vague and distracted; she had the air of an invalid antic.i.p.ating pain. If, with her tremulous hand, she overturned a gla.s.s, she sat staring at the water soaking into the white linen tablecloth as if it were a catastrophe she might as well see through to the end.

In his car that was showy too, in the way of mid-century America, Clark drove the mostly silent woman along the lakesh.o.r.e. Sometimes he brushed tears from his eyes, while driving. He wasn't an alcoholic: he could control his drinking. Still, a few shots could trigger his emotions. He talked to Clara about his children, about his wife, the d.a.m.ned lumberyard he hated and wished to h.e.l.l would burn down. He talked about how things were changing in the valley, how Tintern was expanding; there was a West Tintern now, with a shopping center, fast-food restaurants. On land his brother Steven had bought cheap.

He was crude, head-on as a flummoxed farm animal. Saying "Steven"-"Steve"-as if not knowing how the name, the mere sound of that word, would make Clara stiffen.

Or if he knew, not giving a d.a.m.n.

"You're the only one who knows. You were there. The only one who remembers, Clara."

With the pa.s.sage of years, Clark came to see Clara less frequently. Every month, every two months. But he telephoned her, and he never forgot Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day. At the Home, Clara was Clark's mother: though he looked hardly younger than Clara, the nurses would call out to Mrs. Revere, "Your son is here, Clara. Here he is." A hefty man, inclined to wheezing. His stomach hung over his straining belt. His face was beefy, the ruins of a good-looking boy's face. There was something fierce and tender in his manner, as he stood at the doorway of "Mrs. Revere's" room, turning his panama hat in his hands.

Clark pretended not to notice how annoyed Clara could be when he interrupted her television programs. She was in her early fifties now: she'd begun to gain weight at last. The Home was a private establishment, and expensive. From her husband she'd inherited far more money than even the Home would devour, though she wasn't much aware of it, or grateful for it. It was Judd Revere who oversaw the finances, with Clark's approval. Clark said repeatedly, "She could get well if she wanted to. She could live with us." But at the door of his stepmother's room, peering in at her, he wasn't so sure. On either side of her mouth there were sharp lines. Her once-beautiful eyes were bloodshot and clouded and ringed with soft puffy tissue. Her once-beautiful ashy hair, now thinning at the crown, dry and brittle. Clark might have been waiting for the younger Clara to return, as if it were a matter of his showing up at the right time.

He was a suitor. He was a long-lost son, confusing her with his own mother whom he scarcely recalled. He insisted upon taking her from her room, out into a garden area where goldfinches hovered about feeders, and some of the more active residents trimmed roses. Clark steered Clara to their usual bench, where he could brood and mourn the past, seated with his fleshy thighs outspread and his elbows on his knees. When he asked Clara how she felt, she would answer reluctantly, as if the effort wearied her, or bored her.

"I can breathe. I can walk. I'm not like the others, yet. I can still bathe by myself, but somebody has to be right outside the door. I'm afraid at night, that's when the ..." She paused, searching for the word: paralysis paralysis. "... when it begins. Through my legs and my spine and if I can't reach the bell, n.o.body will come till morning. In the night, sometimes I die. It's so quiet then. I could be at peace then. It happened like that to my mother. She fainted in a field-tomatoes. She died there. Her head was in the dirt. Her pretty hair. I brought water for her to drink but she couldn't drink. I said, 'Oh, Ma!' and she said, 'Go away, Clara. I'm not your ma.' "

On her better days they walked, after a meal at the White House. Sometimes they walked along the river, without speaking. The staff at the Home encouraged Clark to take his mother out: "Her heart is strong, she can live a long time yet. You seem to be her only visitor." One balmy spring day when they were walking along the river, Clara somewhat slowly, stiffly, two girls in their early teens pedaled up on bicycles, suddenly close behind them. Both girls had wild, dirty, ferret-faces. One yelled, "Watch out, you old hag!" because Clara had not moved aside for her.

She was even quieter than usual for the remainder of that day. Sitting with her limp hands in her lap, still and silent and aggrieved. When Clark spoke to her she made no pretense of listening. He felt his throat ache with a grief of his own-his wife couldn't understand what this grief was, why he drove so far to visit his stepmother whom she, the wife, so violently disliked; why he could not explain himself to her. Clark was to continue visiting Clara for the rest of Clara's life, for many years, though after her first stroke she would scarcely seem to know him, or look away from her television set when he appeared.

"Clara? It's me, Clark...."

She seemed to prefer action programs: men fighting, swinging from ropes, riding horses and driving fast cars and shooting guns, killing the enemy repeatedly until the dying gasps of evil men were but a heartbeat away from the familiar rhythms of the commercials, the opening blasts of their singsong lyrics, that changed with comforting slowness over the years.

AFTERWORD.

Joyce Carol Oates "Dare you see a soul at the White Heat at the White Heat?"-this striking opening of one of Emily d.i.c.kinson's most enigmatic, and perhaps most personal poems (#365), has always seemed to me an ideal metaphor for the pa.s.sion of writing. To experience the White Heat White Heat is not at all the same as comprehending it, still less controlling it. One is "inspired"-but what does that mean, exactly? One is empowered, thrilled, fascinated, exhilarated and, in time, exhausted; yet one can't be at all certain of the value of what has been created for others, or even for oneself. Especially, a writer's early white-heat-driven works come to seem to the writer, over the pa.s.sage of years, mysterious in their origins, br.i.m.m.i.n.g with the energy of a youth not yet discouraged or daunted or even much aware of how any ambitious work of art might be received by others. All writers look back upon their early creations with envy, if not always unalloyed admiration: how much strength infused us then, for our having lived so briefly! is not at all the same as comprehending it, still less controlling it. One is "inspired"-but what does that mean, exactly? One is empowered, thrilled, fascinated, exhilarated and, in time, exhausted; yet one can't be at all certain of the value of what has been created for others, or even for oneself. Especially, a writer's early white-heat-driven works come to seem to the writer, over the pa.s.sage of years, mysterious in their origins, br.i.m.m.i.n.g with the energy of a youth not yet discouraged or daunted or even much aware of how any ambitious work of art might be received by others. All writers look back upon their early creations with envy, if not always unalloyed admiration: how much strength infused us then, for our having lived so briefly!

A Garden of Earthly Delights was originally written in 196566, published in 1967, and has remained in print more or less continuously, as a ma.s.s-market paperback in the United States and more recently as a Virago "Cla.s.sic" in England. Yet, in rereading it, in preparation for the Modern Library edition, which seems, in some quarters, a kind of canonization of a text, I was dissatisfied by it, and undertook a new edition in the summer of 2002. As a composer can hear music he can't himself play on any instrument, so a young writer may have a vision he or she can't quite execute; to feel something, however deeply, is not the same as possessing the power- the craft, the skill, the stubborn patience-to translate it into formal terms. In preparing was originally written in 196566, published in 1967, and has remained in print more or less continuously, as a ma.s.s-market paperback in the United States and more recently as a Virago "Cla.s.sic" in England. Yet, in rereading it, in preparation for the Modern Library edition, which seems, in some quarters, a kind of canonization of a text, I was dissatisfied by it, and undertook a new edition in the summer of 2002. As a composer can hear music he can't himself play on any instrument, so a young writer may have a vision he or she can't quite execute; to feel something, however deeply, is not the same as possessing the power- the craft, the skill, the stubborn patience-to translate it into formal terms. In preparing them them (1969) for a similar Modern Library edition in 2000, I rewrote some sections of that novel, revised others, and trimmed here and there, but did not feel the need to rewrite approximately three quarters of the novel, as I have done here. In reexamining (1969) for a similar Modern Library edition in 2000, I rewrote some sections of that novel, revised others, and trimmed here and there, but did not feel the need to rewrite approximately three quarters of the novel, as I have done here. In reexamining Garden Garden, I saw that the original narrative voice had not been adequate to suggest, still less to evoke, the complexity of the novel's princ.i.p.al characters. The more complexity we acknowledge in others, the more dignity we grant them. The Walpoles-Carleton, Clara, Swan-were in fact far more than fict.i.tious characters to me in 196566, yet I failed to allow their singular voices to infuse the text sufficiently; the narrative voice, a version of the author's voice, too frequently summarized and a.n.a.lyzed, and did not dramatize scenes that were as vivid to me as episodes in my own life. The Walpoles are strong-willed individuals not unlike those with whom I'd grown up, or had known about as a child in an economically distressed farm community in western New York in the 1940s and '50s; they are quirky, unpredictable, wayward, self-aggrandizing and self-destructive, with distinct and idiosyncratic voices of their own, and would be resentful of their stories being "told" by another. Though a social a.n.a.lyst might diagnose the Walpoles as victims of a kind, the Walpoles certainly would not see themselves in this reductive way, and as their chronicler, I have no wish to portray them as purely victims either.

Composing the original version of A Garden of Earthly Delights A Garden of Earthly Delights in 196566 was very like my experience in composing in 196566 was very like my experience in composing Expensive People Expensive People a year later: as if I had poured gasoline on my surroundings and lit a match to them and the flames that leapt madly up were somehow both the fuel of the novel and the novel itself. These "white heat" experiences are like waking dreams, consuming one's imagination, utterly fascinating, exhausting. The novel-to-be springs into a visionary sort of life like something glimpsed: an immense mosaic, a film moving at a swift pace. You "see"-but you can't keep up with that pace. The novel opens before you like a dream, drawing you into it, yet it's a dream in which you are somehow partic.i.p.ating, and not merely a pa.s.sive observer. So swift and obsessive was the original composition of a year later: as if I had poured gasoline on my surroundings and lit a match to them and the flames that leapt madly up were somehow both the fuel of the novel and the novel itself. These "white heat" experiences are like waking dreams, consuming one's imagination, utterly fascinating, exhausting. The novel-to-be springs into a visionary sort of life like something glimpsed: an immense mosaic, a film moving at a swift pace. You "see"-but you can't keep up with that pace. The novel opens before you like a dream, drawing you into it, yet it's a dream in which you are somehow partic.i.p.ating, and not merely a pa.s.sive observer. So swift and obsessive was the original composition of A Garden of Earthly Delights A Garden of Earthly Delights for the young writer in her mid-twenties that it didn't dawn upon me, preposterous as it must sound, that "Carleton Walpole" might have been partially modeled upon my paternal grandfather, Carlton Oates; it did not occur to me that my grandfather, whom I had never met, an apparently violent and often abusive alcoholic who had abandoned his young family to dest.i.tution in Lockport, New York, in the early 1920s, and whose name was never spoken in our household, might have acquired a mythic significance in my unconscious, if one believes in "the unconscious" as a putative wellspring of creativity. If I had been asked why I'd named my character "Carleton" I would have had no answer except that it had sounded appropriate. (Readers have told me over the years that "Carleton" is a likely name for a man born in the Kentucky hills, whose ancestors emigrated from England in the previous century.) Only when I read biographical material about my family, in Greg Johnson's 1998 biography of my life t.i.tled for the young writer in her mid-twenties that it didn't dawn upon me, preposterous as it must sound, that "Carleton Walpole" might have been partially modeled upon my paternal grandfather, Carlton Oates; it did not occur to me that my grandfather, whom I had never met, an apparently violent and often abusive alcoholic who had abandoned his young family to dest.i.tution in Lockport, New York, in the early 1920s, and whose name was never spoken in our household, might have acquired a mythic significance in my unconscious, if one believes in "the unconscious" as a putative wellspring of creativity. If I had been asked why I'd named my character "Carleton" I would have had no answer except that it had sounded appropriate. (Readers have told me over the years that "Carleton" is a likely name for a man born in the Kentucky hills, whose ancestors emigrated from England in the previous century.) Only when I read biographical material about my family, in Greg Johnson's 1998 biography of my life t.i.tled Invisible Writer Invisible Writer, did the connection seem obvious, like the similarity between "Clara" and "Carolina" (my mother's name). How opaque we are to ourselves sometimes, while transparent as crystal to another!

Of course, a literary work is a kind of nest: an elaborately and painstakingly woven nest of words incorporating chunks and fragments of the writer's life in an imagined structure, as a bird's nest incorporates all manner of items from the world outside our windows, ingeniously woven together in an original design. For many of us, writing is an intense way of a.s.suaging, though perhaps also stoking, homesickness. We write most avidly to memorialize what is past, what is pa.s.sing, and what will soon vanish from the earth. No more poignant words have been uttered than William Carlos Williams's lines With each, dies a piece of the old life, which he carries ...; With each, dies a piece of the old life, which he carries ...; if I had to suggest a motive for metaphor, certainly for my own decades-long effort in the creation of metaphor, it would be something like this. A novel is so capacious, elastic, and experimental a genre, there is virtually nothing that it can't contain, however small and seemingly inconsequential. if I had to suggest a motive for metaphor, certainly for my own decades-long effort in the creation of metaphor, it would be something like this. A novel is so capacious, elastic, and experimental a genre, there is virtually nothing that it can't contain, however small and seemingly inconsequential. A Garden of Earthly Delights A Garden of Earthly Delights, my second novel, and my third book, is, like my first novel, With Shuddering Fall With Shuddering Fall (1964), crammed with "real" life, landscapes and incidents, only slightly altered. (1964), crammed with "real" life, landscapes and incidents, only slightly altered.

Migrant farmworkers were often seen in western New York when I was growing up, especially in Niagara County, which is mostly orchards and farmland. Seeing these impa.s.sive-looking men, women, adolescents and children being driven along our country roads in battered buses, I wondered at their lives; I could imagine myself among them, a sister to the young girls. (The migrant workers I saw were predominantly Caucasian.) I grew up on a small family farm in Millersport, where the crops required picking by hand: pears, apples, cherries, tomatoes, strawberries. (Eggs, too, another sort of hand-picking.) Months of our lives were given up to "harvesting"-if we were lucky and had something to harvest- and I can attest that little romance accrues to such farmwork, still less to sitting self-consciously by the side of the road at an improvised produce stand hoping that someone will stop and buy a pint, a quart, a peck, a bushel basket of your produce. (Early conditioning for the writer's solitary yet cruelly exposed position in a capitalist-consumer society!) In rereading A Garden of Earthly Delights A Garden of Earthly Delights I was surprised that relatively little of this firsthand picking experience is included; entirely missing is the kind of picking I did most, from ladders positioned in fruit trees, that could be treacherous. (Not just that your shoulders, arms, neck and legs were strained, and not just that you might fall, but also you were easy game for stinging insects like bees and flies.) I was surprised that relatively little of this firsthand picking experience is included; entirely missing is the kind of picking I did most, from ladders positioned in fruit trees, that could be treacherous. (Not just that your shoulders, arms, neck and legs were strained, and not just that you might fall, but also you were easy game for stinging insects like bees and flies.) My early editors at Vanguard Press were offended by the frequent profanities and crudeness of speech of the characters of A Garden of Earthly Delights A Garden of Earthly Delights, objecting particularly to Clara's speech. For even as a girl, Clara can be forcefully crude. Yet to me, such speech was more or less commonplace; not so much within the home (though my father, Frederic Oates, sharing some of the characteristics of the fict.i.tious Carleton, was not what one would describe as a speaker of genteel middle-cla.s.s English) as outside, overheard as adult and adolescent speech. Strange to admit, the crude language of the characters in much of my fiction strikes a nostalgic chord with me; even the sudden flaring-up of bad temper and violence common to a world of the economically deprived doesn't seem to me ugly or morally disagreeable, only just authentic. In such worlds, men in particular speak and behave in certain "manly"-"macho"-ways. (How different-very different!-from the seemingly civilized world in which I have dwelled since 1978, in Princeton, New Jersey, where such mild profanities as "h.e.l.l" and "d.a.m.n" strike the ear as strident; as out of place as sloppily guzzling hard cider from a jug would be, in the way of Carleton Walpole.) Can one be nostalgic for a world in which, in fact, one would not wish to live, as for incidents one would not wish to relive? The stab of emotion I feel at recalling my one-room schoolhouse in Millersport, so very like the schoolhouse Clara Walpole briefly attends, is difficult to a.n.a.lyze. I would not wish any child I know to endure such experiences, yet I could not imagine my own life without them; and I think I would be a lesser, certainly a less complex person, if I had been educated in a middle-cla.s.s community, or had grown up in a supremely civilized community like Princeton. (It was in the schoolhouse and its desultory "playground" that I first grasped the principles of what Darwin might have meant by the strife of species, the strife of individuals within species, and the phenomenon of "survival by natural selection.") I did not live in a family so haphazard and impoverished as Carleton Walpole's, but I knew girls who did, among whom was the closest friend of my childhood and early adolescence. Though such terms as "victims of abuse"-"abuse survivors"-are cliches at the present time, they did not exist in the era of A Garden of Earthly Delights. A Garden of Earthly Delights. On the contrary, it was not uncommon in certain quarters for men to beat their families and remain morally as well as legally blameless; though s.e.xual hara.s.sment, s.e.xual molestation, and rape may have been commonplace, the vocabulary to define them was not, and it would have been a rare case reported, and a yet rarer case taken seriously by police. On the contrary, it was not uncommon in certain quarters for men to beat their families and remain morally as well as legally blameless; though s.e.xual hara.s.sment, s.e.xual molestation, and rape may have been commonplace, the vocabulary to define them was not, and it would have been a rare case reported, and a yet rarer case taken seriously by police. A Garden of Earthly Delights A Garden of Earthly Delights is a wholly realistic portrayal of that world, but it isn't so much a novel about victims as it is about the ways in which individuals define themselves and make of themselves "Americans"-which is to say, resolutely not victims. is a wholly realistic portrayal of that world, but it isn't so much a novel about victims as it is about the ways in which individuals define themselves and make of themselves "Americans"-which is to say, resolutely not victims.

A Garden of Earthly Delights was imagined as the first of an informal trilogy of novels dealing with disparate social cla.s.ses, focusing upon young Americans confronting their destinies. Though in my short fiction of the 1960s I rarely explored social and political themes in depth, focusing instead upon intimate emotional and psychological experiences, in my novels I hoped to evoke much larger, more grandly ambitious landscapes. My models were Balzac, Stendhal, d.i.c.kens, Flaubert, Mann, and Faulkner. When I moved to Detroit, Michigan, in the early 1960s-I would live there through the July 1967 riots, and beyond through months of exquisite civic tension-I was galvanized to believe that the writing of a novel should be more than purely private, domestic, or even, contrary to the reigning Nabokovian imperatives of the day, apolitical and aesthetic; I wanted my novels to be realistic portrayals of individuals unique in themselves and yet representative of numerous others of their generations and social cla.s.ses. (Strange, that I had not read Dreiser! Not until decades later would I read was imagined as the first of an informal trilogy of novels dealing with disparate social cla.s.ses, focusing upon young Americans confronting their destinies. Though in my short fiction of the 1960s I rarely explored social and political themes in depth, focusing instead upon intimate emotional and psychological experiences, in my novels I hoped to evoke much larger, more grandly ambitious landscapes. My models were Balzac, Stendhal, d.i.c.kens, Flaubert, Mann, and Faulkner. When I moved to Detroit, Michigan, in the early 1960s-I would live there through the July 1967 riots, and beyond through months of exquisite civic tension-I was galvanized to believe that the writing of a novel should be more than purely private, domestic, or even, contrary to the reigning Nabokovian imperatives of the day, apolitical and aesthetic; I wanted my novels to be realistic portrayals of individuals unique in themselves and yet representative of numerous others of their generations and social cla.s.ses. (Strange, that I had not read Dreiser! Not until decades later would I read An American Tragedy An American Tragedy and the more capably executed and the more capably executed Sister Carrie Sister Carrie, whose resilient protagonist might have been an older cousin of Clara Walpole.) My early fiction had been set in a somewhat surreal/lyrically rendered rural America ("Eden County") suggested by my own background in western New York ("Erie County"); after moving to Detroit, I began to write about individuals in cities, though their ties, like my own, might be rural. I seem to have made an early, curious identification with Swan Walpole, since an incarnation of this Hamlet-like character ("Hamlet-like," I mean, in my then-young writer's imagination) appears in one of my first-published stories, "In the Old World," a co-winner of the Mademoiselle Mademoiselle short-story compet.i.tion while I was an undergraduate at Syracuse University in 1959. In reliving Swan Walpole's life, through my rewriting of much of short-story compet.i.tion while I was an undergraduate at Syracuse University in 1959. In reliving Swan Walpole's life, through my rewriting of much of A Garden of Earthly Delights A Garden of Earthly Delights, I see him as a kind of alter ego for whom the life of the imagination (he's a bookish child, in a world in which books are devalued) is finally repudiated, as it was not, of course, for me, for whom it was more a salvation, if "salvation" isn't too melodramatic a term. Swan is burnt-out, self-loathing, and finally a suicide because his truest self has been denied, and that "true self " would have been a writer-self, an explorer of cultural and spiritual worlds. I would not have known in 196566 how this young man's experience would parallel the ways in which America itself would seem to have repudiated, in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, even into the morally debased and economically ravaged twenty-first century, a further loss of innocence of this nation at such odds with its own ideals and grandiloquent visions: Swan, c'est moi! Swan, c'est moi! (But only in fantasy.) (But only in fantasy.) [image]

In this new edition, which is slightly longer than the original, the princ.i.p.al characters, Carleton, Clara, and Swan, are more directly presented. My intention is not to narrate their stories so much as to allow the reader to experience them intimately, from the inside. Though there are no first-person pa.s.sages or experimental sleights of hand, of a kind I would employ in Expensive People Expensive People and and them them, the Walpoles speak more frequently; we are more frequently in their heads; lengthy expository pa.s.sages have been condensed, or eliminated. Very little in the plot has been altered, and no new characters are introduced or old characters dropped. Clara and Swan move in their original zigzag courses to their inevitable and unalterable fates; Carleton moves more swiftly to his, a self-determined fate that more befits the man's character. In the new A Garden of Earthly Delights A Garden of Earthly Delights Carleton is acknowledged as more heroic than I had seen him originally, when I was so young. Clara is more sympathetic, and Swan more subtle and capricious in his spiritual malaise. (Swan and I share a predilection for insomnia, but not much else.) I knew little of nursing homes in 196566, and now in 2002 I know all too much about them, since my elderly, ailing parents' experiences over the past several years, which makes the conclusion of Carleton is acknowledged as more heroic than I had seen him originally, when I was so young. Clara is more sympathetic, and Swan more subtle and capricious in his spiritual malaise. (Swan and I share a predilection for insomnia, but not much else.) I knew little of nursing homes in 196566, and now in 2002 I know all too much about them, since my elderly, ailing parents' experiences over the past several years, which makes the conclusion of A Garden of Earthly Delights A Garden of Earthly Delights particularly poignant to me. How chilling, a young writer's prophecies seem in retrospect! If we write enough, and live long enough, our lives will be largely deji vu, and we ourselves the ghost-characters we believed we had created. particularly poignant to me. How chilling, a young writer's prophecies seem in retrospect! If we write enough, and live long enough, our lives will be largely deji vu, and we ourselves the ghost-characters we believed we had created.

The effort of the rewriting was not to alter A Garden of Earthly Delights A Garden of Earthly Delights but to present its original characters more clearly, unoccluded by an eager young writer's prose. They seem to me now like figures in a "restored" film or figures seen through a lens that required polishing and sharper focusing. What remains unchanged is the chronicle of the Walpoles, my initial attempt at an "American epic." The trajectory of social ambition and social tragedy dramatized by the Walpoles seems to me as relevant to the twenty-first century as it had seemed in the late 1960s, not dated but bitterly enhanced by our current widening disparity between social cla.s.ses in America. but to present its original characters more clearly, unoccluded by an eager young writer's prose. They seem to me now like figures in a "restored" film or figures seen through a lens that required polishing and sharper focusing. What remains unchanged is the chronicle of the Walpoles, my initial attempt at an "American epic." The trajectory of social ambition and social tragedy dramatized by the Walpoles seems to me as relevant to the twenty-first century as it had seemed in the late 1960s, not dated but bitterly enhanced by our current widening disparity between social cla.s.ses in America. Haves and have-nots Haves and have-nots is too crude a formula to describe this great subject, for as Swan Walpole discovers, to is too crude a formula to describe this great subject, for as Swan Walpole discovers, to have have, and not to be be, is to have lost one's soul.

PRINCETON, AUGUST 2002 2002.

THE M MODERN L LIBRARY E EDITORIAL B BOARD.

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